Sunday, October 20, 2019

Barn tour

Since it appears we're actually going to be allowed to stay, I figure it's time for a tour of our new home. 

We'll start at the view from the parking lot with the indoor on the left and the main barn on the right.  They're about 10 yards apart which is nice when the weather is being very New England.

The indoor is about the length of a small dressage arena, but the big new outdoor should be ready in the spring.  It's a textile footing and quite fluffy.

It's an H shaped barn with two aisles and 14 stalls.  Big, airy stalls with drop downs to let the horses hang their heads out.

The tack room is tucked in the center with doors going to both aisles.  Heated, AC, and very cushy.  As Trainer Z said during her first visit, H/J barns know how to do it.  You can tell my locker is the one open because of the blingy browband.

At the center of the barn are the grooming stalls.  Two regular stalls on this side, one indoor wash rack with warm water on the other side.

Blanket system with the indoor wash rack in the background.

The feed room is also in the center of the barn (the middle of the H).

I keep my extra saddles and gear up in the hayloft.

If you walk out the back of the barn, you find a second cinder block barn with three shedrow stalls.  This building was original when the property was bought.  Theo and two TBs live out here.  The outdoor wash racks are also out here.  Theo decided to poke his head out and say hi for the photo.

The shedrow stalls look out over the sand paddocks.  Theo is currently in one of the sand paddocks since his grass pasture has closed down for the season and he's been spooking at the bridge construction which makes it hard to get him out to the grass paddocks.  It's plenty big enough for him to be dumb and he can touch/mess with no less than three horses.  He has buddies on all sides which makes him happy.  He's settled in very nicely and has kept his antics to a reasonable level.  This is from the entrance to his paddock and it goes down the hill and widens out.  He has a neighbor next to him and touches two paddocks at the bottom.

There are a whole heck of a lot of paddocks, including the round pen we use when Theo's just catching a break between appointments.

And finally, if you go down the hill and across the bridge that's being updated, you get to the grass paddocks.  The first picture is of the sacrifice paddocks that are smaller, the second is a shot of Theo out in one of the big fields.

Theo's settled in like he's been here his whole life.  He's very much part of the herd here and that apparently means everything to him.  He's happy to go out with everyone but equally happy to come in when the rest of the herd comes in.  He had to have his first day locked in due to weather on Friday and he handled it with no reaction at all.  No horses went out so he just nommed his hay and sat with his face out in the crazy wind and rain.  Being in a shed row stall means he has lots of things to watch and all the fresh air he could want.  The top door is only closed when the weather is extreme, like during our wind storm where we got two inches of rain and wind gusts up to hurricane force.  Whee.

The move has been nothing but good for us.  I'm looking forward to a more relaxed winter with our new accommodations and all new adventures with our new friends in 2020.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Power steering

So Theo was a bit of an ass on Sunday and decided flexing either longitudinally or laterally was not on his agenda.  I don't know why, possibly because he got Saturday off and subsequently decided that aliens were actively circling the indoor and he needed to look at them.  It could possibly be the long string of rides in his jump tack.  Maybe the massage the day before?  Who knows, but he decided that he wasn't taking any input on his head, neck, or shoulders.  Sure, bro, you go do that.  Only not.

Unrelated cute picture of the resident chicken helping out my farrier

I said stop looking out the door every time we go by and that apparently made him decide that looking out the window was the only thing with any meaning in his life.  This ended with him tearing through the left rein and making my shoulder fail for the first time in two years.  Ouch.  The next day I showed up with my pelham in hand.  No more nice jumpy tack for you if you're going to be a problem child.  He was in a plain loose ring snaffle when we had our argument, not even his NS Verdenbind that usually keeps him from getting ideas.  With my shoulder in pain, I skipped right to the pelham.  We're not reverting to the dark days when the left rein being torn through my hand was a daily occurrence.

He promptly decided to follow up on his previous work and haul on the left rein.  I picked up my curb rein and he promptly changed his mind.  Nope, not mucking around with that, thank you very much.  I let the curb rein go slack, picked up a nice connection on the snaffle rein, and we carried on with our day.  He tested it a couple times, just to be sure, and I picked up the curb as needed to tell him that my left shoulder was off limits.  He sighed and went back to work.

More unrelated media of the other assistant my farrier picked up for the day

He was so much FUN in that pelham.  I played with some of our lateral stuff because he was staying right where he belongs with zero effort from me.  It kept him from looking out the window every freaking lap and he actually kept his head right around vertical without regular reminders.  I even got him to sit on the right rein correctly because he, for once, had no interest in bickering with my left hand as a way to distract me from the fact he's also laying on my left leg.  It completely broke the cycle of bickering between us.  I set my hands, he set his face, and I kicked his booty right up between my hands.  I could really get him in front of my leg because he wasn't trying to go above the bit to get out of using his back.  It was like someone had turned on the power steering.  I felt like I could whisper and he would answer.

Now it's not a magical perfect thing.  He's not good in a fat, fixed cheek snaffle and that's what I end up with when I drop the curb.  I can't get off his face enough for him to be truly comfortable.  And when I jumped in it the following day, he started out fantastic but got pissy when he got tired because it was too much bit all the time.  It's never a real snaffle, even when I tied my curb rein off so it wasn't even in my hand.  But man, it was nice to have a ride with zero bickering about what frame I wanted and whether or not his shoulders were available for me to manipulate.  If only I could do that with a loose ring snaffle to drop back on.

Oh, wait, that's a thing.  A very dressage-y thing.

Dorkzilla in his double

I might have ordered up a short shank weymouth so I can build Theo a double bridle.  Not as a show rig or every day rig or anything like that, but to replace my pelham as my 'knock it off' rig.  We're schooling Third so we're actually at the appropriate level to introduce a double.  He isn't at all strong enough to show in a double, but I think an occasional tune up ride would do us both good.  Trainer Z gave me a thumbs up on the idea of introducing this tool to the tool box and my friend is lending me Dorkzilla's old double to try.  I'm hoping some of Dorkzilla's crazy talent has oozed into the leather and will rub off on Theo.

I'm equal parts terrified and curious about this next step in our education.  I've got the hands for it, but the double is such a big kids dressage thing.  Even if it's a spectacular failure and he hates it, I'll get pictures of Theo wearing it.  He'll look so fancy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Return of the data

I finally remembered to charge my Equisense and get it back to work.  For awhile I didn't want to use it because I knew my symmetry was going to be bad and I knew my elevation was terrible with the hard footing.  Today I turned it on for my jumping lesson with Trainer D.

The jumping count is off because it didn't count the cross rail we had set up.  Apparently Theo didn't put enough effort into it for it to count.  And since we were only doing patterns for four or so jumps, with one not counting, Equisense didn't really realize we were jumping courses.  Oh well, not my focus with this tool.

What is up with our regularity though?  Canter makes some sense, we're still settling into our new jumping canter so things waver as he slows in the corners.  The trot was more of a surprise, but kind of the same story.  Go forward go forward go forward is apparently not good for our regularity scores since it's something we fade on and then get reminded.  Ugh.

Symmetry is holding steady in the green so that's lovely.  I made him canter his booty off with 22% of our hour long ride at the canter.  That's a big change from before.  We cantered for thirteen minutes total and it wasn't little canters.  Trainer D was all about the forward.  Pony was tired by the end.

The real surprise was the change in the elevation score.  We were averaging 15 cm or lower for the previous 20 sessions, all of a sudden we popped up to 18 cm.  During our ride we were as high as 19 cm which is average for the Equisense user population.

Looking at our trend of 20 sessions, that's a very big jump.  Our trot elevation looked good, too, though not as dramatic a change.  I was in a pelham today due to my shoulder bothering me.  I'm curious what this will look like when I swap back to my snaffle.  Probably about the same, Theo isn't overly fussed by his pelham.

It's been way too long since I used this tool.  It's really quite helpful when I'm trying to track our progress.  It also gives me confidence that we're on a good path.  I'll be very interested to see what our averages look like in a month when it's all data from the new environment.

Monday, October 14, 2019


And with a dull thud, the show season is over.  The leaves are falling, there's a chill in the air, and all the pressure I've felt since April is suddenly gone.

Last outing of the season, looking far less terrified of our Second level tests

My trailer is parked with no intention of moving it for over a month.  All of my white breeches have gone into storage until next spring.  Theo's hairy, dirty, and loving it.  The grazing pastures are already being shut down since the grass has quit growing and the ponies were already starting to chew at nubs.  We're down to 11 hours of sunlight a day with sunset at 6pm.  There's only a couple weeks left before the clocks change and we're riding in the dark every evening.  Gotta love sunset at 4pm.

I'm not even sure how he manages to get this filthy in 24 hours

This time of year is my favorite for riding but at the same time I feel adrift.  I'm so relieved that the season is over.  For us, it was an aggressive season with a lot of outings.  My weekends are now open and I don't have crazy wake up calls so I can drive hours and then try to not puke in front of a judge.  I'm throwing out the tattered, creased, and stained copies of my tests that were all over my truck, car, purse, desk, you name it.  But what do you do for motivation when you have no goal in front of your nose for the first time in six months?

Mostly this.

It's about 24", he jumps it like it's 3' because that's how Theo do

Regular jumping lessons are keeping me from just giving the pony a kiss on the nose and skipping the riding.  We do the big canter, jump the (little) jumps, and try to do the flying changes.  Theo's having his temper tantrum phase of training in regards to flying changes where he realizes the rules have changed and he throws a complete fit about it.  First I want counter canter, then I want simple changes, and now I want flying changes?  Clearly I don't know what I'm doing and he's going to make his displeasure at my incompetence known.  Prop and buck are a go.  Ugh.

It's a delicate balance between keeping up with my riding and not pushing myself to keep progressing.  I'm trying to embrace being a slacker since slacking off for a month is a good way to combat burnout.  And believe me, at that last show, I was feeling burnt out.  The idea of starting my Third level moves didn't sound appealing after busting my butt since February to survive my move up to Second.  I'm still feeling a bit burnt out.  I know I'll be taking a serious break in the winter when it's stupid cold and icy out so I'm not too concerned, but I don't want to get miserable and get into that bad head space.

Might be a good time to practice hacking outside.  We made it all the way around the barn and down around the paddocks last time without a melt down, it's progress.

The four beat canter

Theo is harder to ride in the canter.  At first he didn't want to canter at all.  Keeping him in the canter was an act of several gods.  Over time, that's gotten better.  He's now fit enough that he can do a working canter indefinitely without me dying of exhaustion keeping him there.  He used to have a four beat canter all the time but as he got stronger, it went to three beats.

Way back in 2015.  I do not miss the days when I had to basically throw things at him to canter through my Training level tests

Right now, in the collected canter, the four beat has made a reappearance.  It happened at my last show in my right lead canter for my medium into my 10m circle.  After the circle I was able to boot him up in front of my leg and fix it.  It's not particularly visible, we didn't get a rhythm or lateral comment, but I can feel it.  Trainer Z saw it but she's actively looking for it.  I've injected, massaged, chiro'd, saddle fitted, and supplemented.  The consensus is that any pain is well managed but that four beat canter will still show up (minus the resistance) because that's Theo.  He did it for years starting long before we met.  At this point, I think I have to accept that Theo is a horse with a canter that is prone to breaking down.  Verne Betchelder asked if there were any gaited horses in his background.  I don't think so, but it sure would explain some things.

What is whacky is that his canter usually scores higher than his trot.  Judges love his uphill canter, so long as he doesn't go seriously four beat.  They don't seem to notice if the rhythm breakdown is fleeting or minor.  Canter is his better scoring gait but it's the gait where we struggle in training.

This is Theo at his weakest, right lead collected canter

As we pursue his flying changes, canter quality is becoming a major focus.  He can canter around in a three beat canter all day so long as I'm not asking for real collection.  Trainer D hasn't noticed any issue with a four beat canter but she is very strict with him being up in front of her leg while not looking for a collected gait.  She's working on getting his canter as open and forward as possible.  Once I ask for collection, the rhythm will try to break down.  Now that pain has been ruled out, I suspect strength.  It's hard for him to collect his canter, so he goes back to his default four beat canter. 

One of our best technical movements (simple change) but yeah, he's weak

Most of this summer I would back off if he went four beat since I assumed pain.  Which was true and I have no regrets on backing off, but now that it's been handled, it's time to push through this and develop a big boy canter.

My plan is to spend the next three weeks jumping and doing a big, forward, three beat canter while taking a break from the dressage.  I mean, we'll still do dressage because that's what we do but it'll be more sprinkled into our jumping and strength focused rides.  Trainer D is on board and ready to spend the next month cantering, transitions within the gait, doing grids, and jumping as strength training. He's a horse that will only do things willingly when they're easy for him.  He needs a lot of cardio and muscle built up if I want him to canter collected without rhythm issues.  He needs more jump which isn't a set of muscles we really focused on this year.  We were all about getting him to actually use his topline and go forward.  So we got push muscles, we even built up some nice carrying muscles, but the jump muscles lagged behind.  We may need to muscle him up to the same level as a Fourth level horse to make him comfortable doing Third.

My entire 'plan' for several years has been 'make him stronger' with slight variations.  Dressage = power lifting, apparently.

Verne Betchelder is back Nov 30 and I nabbed a spot to ride with him again.  I'd like to show some progress in our canter.  At least a little bit.  He's a great teacher but he doesn't like it when you're not putting in the effort.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Blog Hop: 10 Questions for October

Thank you, L, for the blog material while settling into the after show season doldrums.

1. What discipline do you ride? What would you ride if you could pick any other one?

I mean, it's easier to ask what discipline I don't ride?  

Right now I consider myself to be a dressage rider that also does equitation over fences and western dressage.  I'm quite content with this mix but if someone handed me a very classy working hunter, I'd head back into the hunter ring with no bitching.

2. How many horses have you ridden in your entire riding career?

I have absolutely no idea.  I have ridden so many horses, ranging from years to minutes.  I've always been the fool that will get on anything if someone asks.

3. Most bizarre activity you've done with your/a horse?

Walk.  Through.  Fire.  What could I possibly do to top that?

4. Do you consider riding to be your outlet? If yes, why?

Honestly, I consider it the opposite.  Riding forces me to stop living in my head, thinking about so many things that are still twenty steps away.  When I'm riding, I have to focus on the here and now, the way my horse feels, what is happening in my immediate environment.  It's the only time that I'm not thinking 100 mph about a dozen different things.  When I'm riding, my mind is quiet.  For someone like me, that quiet is bliss.

5. Have you ever read horse-related magazines? If yes, which one(s)?

I grew up on Equus.  I loved all the medical articles, especially when my pony foundered and I had an article that told me exactly what that was so I was less afraid.  I was an odd little kid.  I now read my local magazine, Equine Journal, and Dressage Today.  Online I read Horse Magazine.

6. Most memorable advice given to you?

Don't put a round peg in a square hole.  This was in regards to Fiona but it resonated with me right to the core of my riding.  If your horse hates something, don't freaking do it.  

The other bit of advice that was simply memorable was Greg Best saying 'it doesn't matter what bit you put in that horse's mouth'.  His comment was about my OTTB Allen's incredible power and my inability to stop it.  What it triggered was me putting away my terrifying leverage bit rig and taking my horse into day two of the clinic in a snaffle.  I think I scared the pants off of that man when I unleashed the Hellbeast in a snaffle and a martingale but it was the day I learned that I really could do it.  I didn't need the gadgets anymore.  It was probably the single most important event that happened in my education as a jumping rider.

7. Did you ever collect Breyer horse models or similar?

Embarrassing info time:  I used to go to model horse shows.  When I was in college and had no horse, I went to model horse shows with my string of model horses.  I even learned to do my own customs.  When I got Allen and lost interest in model horses, I gave my show string to a teenager that wanted to go to model horse shows but didn't have the funds.  No regrets, just handed her the whole set rather than let them collect dust in my house.  I hope she won lots of ribbons with my champions.  I'm currently shopping for an artist to do a portrait model of Theo for my desk.

8. Favorite "celebrity" horse?

Valegro.  Boring, yes, but when I saw that video of him doing a lesson with a ten year old, he became my absolute favorite.  What a kind heart.

9. If you could spend a day learning from any horse person (past or present), who would you choose?

Dr. Reiner Klimke.  I would follow that man around all day and just watch him ride.  I watch videos of him riding when I need to calm down.  Just hearing him talking to his horses drops my blood pressure.  Watching him on Ahlerich is a joy to me.

10. If you could ride in any international arena in the world, where would you choose?

The Alltech Arena at the KHP.  Just because it would feel so grand.  True pipe dream?  Hickstead.  I've been watching those rounds for as far back as I can remember.  It would be a dream to ride in that arena, even if I didn't jump a single fence.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

GMHA Take Two

All I wanted for my GMHA trip was to not have bucking in my tests and no trip to ER.  I managed to achieve both.

 Spooking at a plastic sign but it made for a pretty picture

Friday was a quick lesson with Trainer Z.  Theo was feeling freaking fantastic after a chiropractic and some really good rides with Trainer D while my back was out.  He was very happy to work in the cooler temps and flicked his toes along quite happily.

Friday warm ups

Saturday was a bit tougher with a crowded warm up.  The sun came out, the temps spiked, and Theo melted a bit.  His 62.6% still got us a pretty yellow ribbon, but I knew we had some easy points to make up.  Like me remembering to ride the correct line.  Theo got a 7 for gaits, I got a 5 for accuracy.  Sigh.

My new unicorn stock tie

Sunday was Theo's third day in prison and it was starting to take it's toll.  He's much calmer in a stall at night now but being in all day makes him quite cranky.  Morning sessions of lunging do make a big difference in his rage levels and help him settle.  It was all working but he was showing much later than the rest of the group on Sunday.  They had to take off due to an emergency back home.  Theo watched the horses on either side of him load and leave.  He started biting his door and kicking.  Aw, crap.  I rearranged my timeline to include an extra lunge before his test.

HAHAHAHA omg I am so glad I did that.  Twenty minutes of snorting, bucking, tail flagging, bolting nonsense.  I took him straight from lunging to the warm up and spent another twenty minutes talking him into releasing his back and bending for me.  A walk to catch his breath, a couple minutes of collected work, and in we went.

It was tight over the back but we got a 61.4% with no bucking or explosions.  The judge really wasn't buying our mediums (and we had a weird break to canter in the 10m half circle) but the rest of the test was respectable.  I'll take it considering how much progress that is for managing Naughty Theo.  No spooking, no bolting, no nonsense.  Just not quite giving me his back.

The culmination of many years of work

Multi-day shows are still not his forte and I will focus on one days in 2020, but at least we made it through this one with no drama.  I hustled him home, tucked him in bed, and gave him a big kiss on the nose.  It was a fantastic finale to our first season at Second.